Saturday, March 04, 2006

West Philly Hybrid

Students from West Philadelphia High School's Academy for Automotive and Mechanical Engineering presented their hybrid vehicle at last month's Philadelphia International Auto Show. The vehicle runs on fuel made from soybeans, possesses a 300 horsepower engine, and gets gas mileage comparable to a Toyota Prius. Last year, the same vehicle won in the Tour de Sol competition for eco-friendly vehicles. The total value of the parts in the vehicle is about $90,000; it possesses carbon-fiber body panels from Hexcel Corp. of Stamford, Conn. and wheels and tires from OZ Racing in Philadelphia. Money for the vehicle was raised through Philadelphia Academics. The vehicle is based on a kit created by K-1 Engineering in Serbia and Montenegro and a donated Honda Accord. The frame was altered to accomodate a 200 horsepower electric motor under the hood and a 150 horsepower turbocharged Volkswagen disel engine in the trunk.

The program was started by Simon Hauger and other instructors of the Automotive Academy in 1998 by developing a curriculm that applied math and science to the creation of an alternate fuel vehicles (AFVs). In 9th grade, students perform lab experiments with toy electric cars. A six-week summer program was added to focus on the construction of the AFV, while majority of the school year focuses on standard coursework. The program incorporates more than just math and science, the students also learn the political ramifications on the dependence of oil and write essays in English class.

In 2005, the program was in danger of being dismantled in proposed budget cutting measures that would have eliminated an auto shop teacher's job and potential loss of connected faculty. The area occupied by the auto program would have been used by students with disciplinary problems. The program was saved through the outcry of parents and local auto dealers who view the program as a source of trained mechanics.

The students have received help from Boeing's V/STOL wind tunnel to make the team's entry in the Tour de Sol more aerodynamically efficient. In 2000, Bill Grauer and Tracie Cesarone proposed 10 modifications to the team's 1993 Saturn car donated by a local dealership; the modifications reduced the vehicle's aerodynamic drag by more than 15 percent.

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